The Onslaught of the Impoverished

In his opinion piece, Rupert Neudeck, founder of the aid organization Cap Anamur, urges Europeans to deal with refugee issues more responsibly and argues for targeted cooperation with certain African states

The numbers are often imprecise; nothing but estimates exist anyway. What is relevant is the rate of increase that can be seen throughout Africa; everywhere young people are making their way to the north and the south.

For hundreds of thousands of people from Zimbabwe and Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia, their main goal is South Africa. Why is the country on the Cape of Good Hope the only one that holds promise for millions of Black Africans? Because it is home to large-scale, viable, profitable industry – something the other 52 African states lack.

Refugee route to the north

The remaining millions of African refugees head north, through the deserts and savannahs. The routes vary, depending on whether progress is hindered by police patrols or blockades. But it is impossible to block the entire Northwest African coast.

And so it seems we will have to get used to hearing the new names of large or small coastal towns where these “fortune seekers” congregate, people who see their flight as an opportunity.

Even if their flight, the long march to Europe, takes years, it is often unthinkable for them to return. Especially if they were given money for the journey by their family or the village community.

The northward flight of young people from the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa continues unchecked. At this time 2.5 million of them are estimated to be living in the four North African countries of Morocco, Libya, Algeria and Tunisia alone, potential oversees immigrants.

But that is too much for Europe to handle: it can't just absorb hundreds of thousands of uneducated, untrained Africans. In the long term, this would completely overtax Europe's societies.

Limited incentives through immigration quotas

In Germany this must be grasped by both ideological camps, by those who welcome foreigners unconditionally as well as by the fanatical xenophobes.

There is no question: the European states must look after these people and take them in, at least to a limited extent or temporarily. But the two most important questions are: what do we do, in the short term, with those who arrive on our shores? And in the middle and long term, what can we do to help in certain African countries in order to create "beacons of hope" outside South Africa as well?

First, immigration quotas must be set. European countries take in certain quotas of immigrants for a limited time. Italy has already set an example with a limited number of Tunisians.

The young job-seekers waiting on the southern coast of the Mediterranean must be offered work, but asked to cover their own transportation costs. The price should lie 200 to 500 euros below that of the traffickers, in order to deprive them of their advantage.

Negotiation as equals with one country

At the same time, development policy must explore completely new directions by negotiating with certain African states. Here we Germans should begin our efforts by cooperating with one country in Africa.

We should not explore the possibilities through tough negotiations, taking the colonial or patriarchal approach, but rather as equals. That could lead to the breakthrough and the "Copernican turn". Instead of flocking to the coast, young people might turn to a place like – Mali!

The difference between Europe, the hotbed of affluence, and Africa is stark and easily grasped: 71 percent of Africans are under 25. 45.7 percent of these 750 million people live on less than a dollar a day.

Of the 38 states which the International Monetary Fund refers to as "poor countries with high debt", 32 are on the African continent. Of 1000 children born in these countries, 102 die before their first birthday.

Financial aid that seeps away

We thought we could fix that quickly with all our money. But despite a total of 1500 billion US dollars that have flowed into the continent over the past 30 years, hardly anything has changed.

We must abandon our arrogance; a delegation from our government should visit several African countries, not for publicity purposes, but to ascertain which government holds the most promise for us.

We cannot help people and begin to stop the mass immigration until we understand our own role correctly. Our role is not that of the white patriarch and patron, though many still cling inwardly to this notion.

We need to find undaunted partners in these governments who are prepared to do whatever it takes to help achieve freedom for their people. Only then can Africa be led out of the quagmire of mismanagement.

Rupert Neudeck

© 2006

Translated from the German by Isabel Cole

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